Demanding Accountability from Customs & Border Protection

Photo: 

This post was written by OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz.

On Tuesday, October 17th, OneAmerica joined the American Immigration Council (Council), Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), the New York Immigration Coalition, Michigan United, and Migrant Justice—represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, the Council and NWIRP—in filing suit in the District Court of Washington D.C. against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for their failure to disclose records detailing Border Patrol collaboration with local law enforcement.

In America’s borderland communities – along both our southern and northern borders – immigrant communities consistently face heightened scrutiny at the hands of the United States Border Patrol.  As described in a report released by OneAmerica in 2012, too often these interactions are tainted with racial profiling and violations of basic due process.  It’s also often the case that the Border Patrol is the largest law enforcement presence in these communities, and the agency typically collaborates with and supports local law enforcement.  

In instances involving major crimes and dangerous situations, Border Patrol response to requests for back-up can be justified.  However, OneAmerica and other organizations documented incidents where Border Patrol agents were being used by local law enforcement officers to provide interpretation for traffic stops, and in communities in Washington State local law enforcement 911 dispatch was being managed by the Border Patrol.  This is problematic, because individuals in crisis shouldn’t have to fear that calling 911 could lead to immigrant detention or deportation.  These practices effectively undermine trust in local law enforcement among immigrant communities, making everyone less safe. They also have the effect of circumventing civil rights obligations by local law enforcement agencies to invest their own resources into making interpretation available to the residents they are charged with protecting, irrespective of their language abilities.

Following the 2012 report and a subsequent report by the American Immigration Council, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, established new guidance restricting the use of Border Patrol agents as interpreters.  This decision was driven in part by a ruling by a separate federal agency that utilizing Border Patrol agents as interpreters inherently leads to discrimination against Latinos and violates the principles laid out in federal civil rights laws.  Border Patrol agents are required to take individuals into custody if they have any reasonable suspicion that the individual might be undocumented.  This raised concerns that law enforcement agents were calling Border Patrol to not only translate, but with the intent of initiating a process against Latino and other immigrant individuals that would lead to immigrant detention and deportation in interactions with non-English speaking immigrants.

Following the new guidance, immigrant groups sought information on how the new guidance was being implemented and submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to gain access to this data.  The documents returned by Customs and Border Protection were redacted to the point of being incomprehensible.  

In 2016, the agency announced its intent to rescind the guidance, but no formal action has been taken by the agency to date.

Statement by Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica, on the filing of the suit against Customs and Border Protection to obtain records under the Freedom of Information Act:

“Customs and Border Protection’s reluctance to disclose information on their practices surrounding interpretation fits into a long-standing pattern of poor transparency,” said OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz. “The practice of using the Border Patrol to provide translation in local law enforcement interactions undermines community-based law enforcement, and it creates fear and distrust between immigrant communities and the law enforcement agencies that are sworn to protect them. As the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, Customs and Border Protection must be a model for transparency and responsible law enforcement. Sadly, this agency must be reminded that they are not a paramilitary militia, and should be held to the highest professional standards in law enforcement.”

To view the suit, see https://americanimmigrationcouncil.org/litigation/seeking-records-cbps-participation-domestic-law-enforcement-activities.

Site by Fuse IQ